The Alchemist’s Theorem – A Children’s Fantasy Book With An Autistic Hero
Following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Margaret Chiavetta‘s debut fantasy children’s book, The Alchemist’s Theorem, features a boy with autistic traits as its star. Although it is not an ‘own voices’ work, Chiavetta’s tale of young Mendel saving the world with his mentor Sir Duffy is informed by personal experience of autism in the family.
The Alchemist’s Theorem has garnered praise from #1 Harry Potter fan site MuggleNet, BestFantasyBooks.com, and FanGirlNation, among others. We spoke to Chiavetta about autism awareness, fantasy world-building and more…
Click pic to read excerpt
Hi Margaret. What made you write about a protagonist with autism for your debut fantasy book?
After I had written a very rough first draft, I realized Mendel was two dimensional and needed more depth. I struggled with how to write him, but then my nephew Brayden, to whom the book is dedicated, started a new school. He’s on the spectrum and his new teacher didn’t adapt well to Brayden’s non-conforming traits.
I was furious at how he was being treated, and then I had an “Ah ha!” moment. Making Mendel autistic would give kids like Brayden a relatable protagonist who could help them cope with such struggles.
What kind of research or experience went into presenting Mendel’s autistic traits?
I based Mendel partly on my nephew, partly on the book The Reason I Jump that Naoki Higashida wrote when he was 13 and unable to speak due to his autism, and then partly on the intense anxiety I had to cope with myself as a kid. My twin sister also has a son, Matthew, who is on the spectrum, and like a sponge she absorbed as much research about spectrum kids as possible. We had many conversations about her own experiences.
The word ‘autism’ is never used in the book. Is that due to the fantasy setting?
Yes. It’s an alternate world not like our own, so the word “autism” doesn’t exist. There are a lot of stigmas, stereotypes, and limits attached to the word autistic. I wanted to focus more on the traits that make Mendel who he is, and show how he copes with his anxieties as a person rather than weigh him down with a label that would cause readers to make assumptions I didn’t want them to make.
I get frustrated with the occasional review that describes Mendel in a very stereotypical way, but not because of how he’s written, rather because sometimes people automatically default to the stereotypes without critically analyzing what they read.
How might children either on or off the spectrum relate to Mendel’s character, challenges and adventures?
I think many people (both kids and adults) who like fantasy use it as a coping mechanism for the anxieties and struggles that are a part of the human condition. Kids, whether on or off the spectrum, can relate to Mendel’s anxieties, learn from his methods of adaptation, and get motivated by his triumphs.
It’s great to see a children’s book with alchemy at its core! What drew you to alchemy as a magical theme?
The video game Skyrim. When I first thought of the idea for the book, I had put over 300 hours into playing Skyrim. The alchemy was my favorite part. I’d get so annoyed when enemies came at me while I was trying to pick flowers. I just loved foraging and collecting items and then experimenting with combinations to make potions. It’s brain food for me. I figured I’m not the only one who appreciates such a thing, so into the book it went.
The continent of Terra Copia is richly imagined and abounds with creatures like Cappamorphs and Gusselsnuffs. Can you tell us more about the joys and trials of world-shaping?
My background is in anthropology with a focus on the study of primates. That really fuels my love for naming and structuring flora and fauna systems. Because I coped with my chronic anxiety by indulging in fantasy, I had put more than 10,000 hours into my imagination by age 21. According to that dude’s book I never read (Outliers), I guess I’m a virtuoso at making things up.
The trials come with continuity errors. Keeping track of all this stuff I make up so it makes sense as a whole is very important. Readers will know if I screw up!
Where can people buy the book?
In the UK, The Alchemist’s Theorem is only available digitally on Amazon. It is also available in the US. I do all the publishing and distribution myself here in the US, but I am looking for a UK publisher. So hopefully paperback and hardback copies of the series will be available in the future.